This Saturday, the world began to melt. Rays of sunlight fell down from the sky, glistening and dancing upon the shining white snow. I decided to see for myself and went for a brief run on the trails that extend past campus and into the surrounding woods. Pieces of ice gushing into pools of water filled the dirt paths that had been dry and compact in the autumn. Even the hard blocks of ice splintered into watery messes when my feet collided upon them, soaking my shoes, socks and feet into a numb chill. Some paths that ran downhill turned into streams, carryings bits of ice and sticks down the trail. I struggled to maneuver my way through the stream, hopping over the moving currents and splashing onto the few rocks that jutted out.
This was the world I saw and waded through on Saturday. This world emerges from Ithaca and the surrounding environment, but it also describes the changes that can be seen in places across this country and even the world. This is one way we define nature: with cyclical change. Ice melts into water, leaves fall in the autumn, and rain pours down in the spring. Days shorten and lengthen, summer turns to fall and fall to winter. This is how our world remains alive, ever-changing in its nature but always moving in the same direction.
Yet, what does it mean for nature to be alive and moving in a direction? How do we grapple with that idea? Traditional European and Western narrative views of nature, which often dominate media conversations about what the conception of nature should be, have seen it as worth conquering. There are gendered and racial implications to this idea, but it stands that vast, open wilderness is there for us to “climb through and immerse ourselves in.” We have national parks, which stand in the strange equilibrium of trying to “preserve” nature for environmental reclamation, and simply being new avenues for us to continue “conquering” our world. This is the “settler” approach to nature, a view that many argue can lead to disastrous consequences. Global warming, pollution and environmental degradation are issues closely related to the actions of businesses and governments, but they are also rooted in our conception of the natural world around us and how we have acted on those beliefs.
Some of the newest, most popular ideas about the perspective towards nature emerged in some of their most accessible forms in the 1960’s and 1970’s. These ideas have been deeply rooted in history and have emerged, in part, through adoption of ideas from various different cultures. Parts of these ideas were conceptions about how nature could be viewed as possessing life and how human interactions influence its state of change in the universe.
You can see this right in outdoor Ithaca. We have our massive gorges, overflowing with water snaking around and flowing through crevices. They are ready to be looked at, observed and challenged by us. And yet, we have our tiny bits of melting snow, just little parts within the whole evolving system of nature. Both of these views are sublime, and in that sense, can be problematic by misrepresenting our roles in changing nature for our own purposes. Yet by viewing nature as alive, we gain respect for the intricacies of nature’s operations. We understand the capacities of nature, and, sitting in Ithaca, climate change and environmental degradation issues become slightly clearer. In this way, looking out at the world again can mean something entirely different.
Hunter Moskowitz is a sophomore in ILR. He enjoys playing the cello and running. His posts appear on alternate Mondays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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